Canada’s Maude Barlow: Great Lakes region needs a “new water ethic.”

Canada’s Maude Barlow: Great Lakes region needs a “new water ethic.”
May 11, 2017 Gary Wilson

Maude Barlow speaks with conviction when it comes to protecting the Great Lakes region’s water.

“We need a new water ethic that puts water protection and water justice at the heart of all policy and practice.”

That was Barlow’s message in a keynote speech to attendees at the Chicago water summit this week.

Barlow is chairperson of the Council of Canadians, Canada’s leading social justice advocacy group and is a former adviser to the United Nations on the issue of water as a human right.

Photo courtesy of Pamela Woolridge via Wikimedia

Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, courtesy of Pamela Woolridge

Barlow said, “This water ethic must be based on the principles of water justice, water sustainability, water sharing and the public trust.”

She said in spite of the quantity of water in the Great Lakes region, threats that have impacted other regions “are on our doorstep in North America.”

Barlow declined to talk about climate change, invasive species and pollution from industrial agriculture – frequent conference topics — saying they have been known for some time.

She instead put a spotlight on newer threats she says are “the result of deliberate policy based on the erroneous notion that the (Great Lakes) are a resource for our pleasure, convenience and profit and anything we do to them in the name of economic growth is okay.”

Among the threats Barlow singled out are:

  • Fracking, which Barlow says produces “massive amounts of wastewater to be disposed of.” Barlow said “fracking must be banned” in the Great Lakes region.
  • The threat that the Great Lakes are becoming a “carbon corridor.” Barlow called for the Enbridge Straits of Mackinac pipeline to be decommissioned.
  • Bottled water; Barlow said companies like Nestle “remove water from healthy watersheds” and ship it around the continent for a huge profit. She cited the Muskegon River where she said Nestle has pumped “more than four billion gallons” since 2000 and paid only a $200 per year licensing fee. Barlow said “all of the Great Lakes watershed must be off limits to this industry.”

The Great Lakes are held in a trust by the state for the people

Barlow continued a years-long campaign in support or the Public Trust doctrine that essentially says the Great Lakes are held in trust by the state for the people.

“Public trust offers a body of principles that combine public good, public control and public oversight with long-term protection of the watershed,” Barlow said.

In an interview, Barlow told Great Lakes Now that in the U.S. and Canada there’s a “myth of abundance” concerning the Great Lakes and related groundwater.  “It’s not something for us to be complacent about,” she said.

Barlow said that we’ve had a “consciousness to love it but not to understand its fragility.”

Nestle and Flint: Exposing the Inequity 

One of her major campaigns is exposing the inequity between a bottled water company like Nestle in Michigan who takes massive amounts of groundwater and pays little for it, and the water shutoffs in Detroit and Flint.

Barlow said “we absolutely should not have to live with that type of inequity” and said guaranteeing water as a human right is the remedy. She said the human right to water has been recognized by the United Nations and that “includes the United States.”

Barlow reflected on the nine years that former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in office and said he was “terrible” on environmental issues. He “fired scientists, shutdown research institutes and gutted water laws.”

Asked by Great Lakes Now for advice on how people in the U.S. can cope with the Trump administration that seems to be following the Harper model, Barlow was optimistic.

She said “stay hopeful…. because this will be a rough ride.” But “don’t lose sight of the values that made this country great.”

“Trump does not own the United States, Barlow said. “He cannot change the essential character of this country.”

Barlow closed her speech calling for everyone to “collectively confront the very power structures that have prevented the change needed to protect and honor the heritage of these Great Lakes.”

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